By Jon Saperstein Herald Writer
Rylan Herdt’s junior year in high school was lining up to be something special
During the fall of 2009, he was undefeated in nine matches as the No. 1 player for the Lake Stevens boys tennis team. His parents decided it was time for him to get his own car. And in his head he was making plans to go to the Class 4A state tennis tournament and, eventually, on to play in college.
But something was holding him back.
It seemed like no big deal, just a little ankle soreness. The doctors even cleared him to play, thinking it was a case of tendinitis.
After his toughest match of the year — against Everett’s Brendan Soelling, who also was undefeated at the time — Herdt couldn’t take the pain anymore. He made an appointment to see the doctor again.
“I played my hardest that match,” Herdt said. “I had the worst ankle pain that match. I ended up beating him and that was probably the best day of my life. That was my favorite day.”
The next day was his worst.
Driving his used white Subaru Impreza, a day after his parents decided it was time he had his own car, he went to the doctor.
“They said there is no way you can play on this anymore,” Herdt said. “October first was the most devastating day of my life. … I drove my car to the doctors office, so they told me that I couldn’t drive it anymore.”
The doctors surmised that a stress fracture near the Talus joint in Herdt’s right foot, just above the heel, had worsened with continued use and eventually a piece of bone died because of a lack of oxygen.
“They said you may use a cane for the rest of your life,” Herdt said. “I was like, ‘No way, that’s not going to happen.’”
Lake Stevens tennis coach Ryan Ingram took the injury as hard as anyone. He lost not only his top singles player, but a quality student-athlete.
“I was devastated for him, just seeing such a great person and such a kid of character,” the third-year varsity coach said. “When I learned he might not run or walk … that was really tough.”
After his freshman year, Herdt worked out four or five days every week, all with the goal of making varsity. He missed out on plenty of social activities, but it didn’t bother him. As a sophomore his effort paid off: He earned the spot as the Vikings’ No. 1 player, much to the surprise of some of his teammates.
As a junior, he was off to a 9-0 start before being sidelined.
After doctors inserted a cadaver bone into his ankle, Herdt applied the same dogged determination he used to improve his tennis game to his rehabilitation.
“He basically took his tenacity on learning to play tennis and took it to his therapy,” Ingram said. “He wasn’t supposed to be quite ready for (this) season, but he was. I see absolutely no signs of anything wrong as far as his game. He’s even better than last year.”
Even as Herdt healed, he remained a part of the team. He continued to go to practice, riding a three-wheeled scooter to the court. People at school called him “Scooter Boy” as he rolled through the halls of Lake Stevens High School with one knee up and his hands on the dual brakes.
Through it all, he kept his head up.
“It’s almost like the player that you dream up as a coach that happens once in a while that is a great skill player but then also is humble, works tremendously hard and does things without you asking,” said Ingram, who coached Vikings baseball for five years before taking over as tennis coach.
“We’ve had guys with arm injuries and various things that are bad that put them out for half a season, but I’ve never seen anything potentially that was nearly as serious. … A lot of guys are just selfish. They get mopey. Rarely does anyone step up and contribute and help through that.”
In a sport that most people associate with individual play, Herdt has lifted his team to a new level. A year ago the Vikings started the season 3-0 but finished 6-10 without Herdt and their No. 2 player, who also suffered an injury during the second half of the season. So far this year, the Vikings are 5-2 and Herdt has his eyes set on state once again.
His long-range goal is to play tennis at Montana State, where he wants to study electrical engineering and enjoy the snowboarding, hunting and fishing opportunities Bozeman offers.
According to Ingram, playing at the next level is possible, but it will take a lot of work.
Anyone who knows Herdt knows that won’t be a problem.